ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- The Cardinals are back in St. Louis for two days of appearances, autographs and interviews. Though Saturday's session was canceled, Monday featured a parade of players with plenty to say. Here's highlights from Day 2. Read Day 1's highlights. Part 1 and Part 2.
A more muscley Adam Wainwright
The Cardinal ace spent much of last season fighting to find his form. Though his Achilles tear was fully healed in spring, reclaiming lost strength in his leg was a lengthier process than he anticipated.
A strong return to the mound at the end of 2015, in defiance of those saying he was lost for the season, turned out to be a false positive in terms of how ready his body was for regular starting work.
“Honestly I think I had so much adrenaline working to get back and to prove everyone wrong that I could get back at the end of the regular season. And once the postseason starts, you might be able to pitch without legs in the postseason because there's so much adrenaline,” he said.
So as the calendar turned to 2016, the 35-year-old struggled to find solid footing in his delivery. Consistency, which had been his signature, eluded him from start to start.
“When I was hitting (the ground while pitching) my landing leg would hit, and my foot was not supported well enough to stick it, to sort of throw through the target and stay in line with my target. Traditionally, that's my strength. My head stays very still. My body goes through the delivery. I might fall off, but I fall off after I deliver the pitch,” he explained. “Especially at the beginning of the season, when my foot would hit, it would instantly bail out to the left, causing me to fall off real bad. My head would fly out. My arm would be sort of dragging. My fastball location was drastically hindered by that.”
Wainwright has since added muscle back to his frame, regaining ground lost limits imposed by injury. His upper and lower body more resemble is 20-win physique and he expects his performance to follow suit.
Mike Matheny plans to lean on Molina
The Winter Warm-Up has served as a reliable waypoint the few years when it came to the team’s public stance on Yadier Molina. Every January John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny would proclaim their plans to get the perennial Gold Glove winner more rest, often making a joke about how that plan went the year before. Every June, Molina would be on pace for a career high in innings caught.
Monday, Matheny dispensed with pretense.
“I’ll continue to get beat up about this, but until my job description changes and it’s not about winning games, then at that point maybe we’ll have a different conversation,” the manager said. “We’re going to put the best team out there each particular day. Not drawing reservations because of maybe some information out there that says maybe we should back off. I don’t buy it. And I think if people have enjoyed the last several seasons of watching one of the best catchers in the game, I think if people enjoy watching this team continue to compete and be one of the contenders in the National League, we have to realize the importance of what Yadi does back there. You can’t have it both ways.”
In 2016, Molina caught more 1,218 innings, which was his career high. His total was 105 innings higher than the next closest catcher, 25-year-old J.T. Realmuto. Molina, 34, out-worked the league while hitting .307 and driving in 58 runs.
Notoriously difficult to talk into resting, he looks to be in for another maximum-effort campaign with the blessing of his manager.
His career innings total is up to 13,245, but he’d have to catch another 845 games to catch career record holder Ivan Rodriguez. Given his resurgence, he’s likely already doing the math.
Mike Leake should benefit from better defense
It’s no secret St. Louis struggled to prevent runs last season, and much of the blame has been placed on a shaky defense. The organization made it a stated goal to pursue athleticism in the field, hoping to more effectively support a pitching staff that pitches to contact.
“We had three guys that were top ground ball pitchers last year. It's definitely huge when you can have a defense that can move. It can only help with winning more ballgames,” said Leake.
Leake suffered from inconsistent backing in 2016, as his ERA ballooned to 4.69 despite his second-highest strikeout total and his career-best K/BB rate (4.17).
His Fielding Independent ERA (a metric that equalizes defense for every pitcher and looks at their ability to prevent home runs and walks while causing strikeouts) was 3.83, 17th best in the NL. For reference, Carlos Martinez had a FIP of 3.61.
Being able to rely on an improved defense could help normalize his statistics and allow him to focus less on strikeouts-traditionally not something he does.
“I was definitely cognizant at times of trying to get guys out when they had two strikes on them. So that probably played a factor in getting more strikeouts, and not letting them put the ball in play,” he said.
Michael Wacha not conceding starting role
The Cardinals again have a pitching competition in spring, with Michael Wacha and Alex Reyes the two arms likely vying for the rotation’s final spot. After an electrifying rookie campaign, Wacha has spent much of the last two seasons fighting to find stable health.
He’s again revamped his offseason workout, training with the man who’s helped Brandon McCarthy (the pitcher who’s most publicly dealt with Wacha’s peculiar shoulder issue). The plan targets specific muscles deep in the shoulder, allowing them to bear more of a load and prevent overcompensating elsewhere.
“Whenever I got evaluated after the season, there was just not a lot of muscle, not a lot of strength right back in here (back of shoulder) and that was causing me to put a lot of stress on the muscles that were getting overworked,” he said. “That’s the theory behind it. There’s not a lot of stuff on the stress reaction, stress fracture type stuff. Just going with something that has worked before, I guess.”
Wacha believes with the right regimen, his body will be able to bear a starter’s workload. If he’s started rethinking his role on the team, he isn’t making it public.
“I haven’t heard anything about it. I’m still going to spring working myself as a starter, getting prepared as a starter. Hopefully I’m in the rotation. That’s what I’m working for. That’s what I’ve been working all offseason for,” he said.
Lance Lynn’s return to action
One of the most significant additions in 2017 for the Birds comes by way of a DL activation. Lance Lynn, the innings-eating bull, will return to action fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery and ready to reestablish himself. After 15 or more wins in three straight seasons, the big righty pitched his way to a 3.03 ERA and 167 strikeouts with a damaged elbow in 2015. He relied entirely on fastballs to do so, utilizing his ability to make the pitch run to mask the compromised off-speed pitches.
Now back to full strength, he doesn’t plan to shy away from the heat.
“If you look at the success I've had, why change, right? I'm going to be who I am, whether you like it or not," he said. "You look at my numbers from '14 and '15, I'll take either one of those. I was pitching a little bit banged up in '15. So I'm not exactly worried about numbers and all that, I'm going to go out there and help the team win. Everything else will take care of itself."